23 April 2013

Mumbai diary

So here I am, with my kids at Mumbai's Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. I'm taking the girls with me, for a holiday, to Singapore.

For those not in the loop, the Other Half recently realised that he's never watched two consecutive football world cups from the same city since 1978 . Which would be his way of saying that he needs to move... With the world cup taking place next year, itchy feet started to itch a little more, and we moved. We've moved bag and baggage to Aamchi Mumbai.

The other half stayed around long enough for our stuff to get here from Bangalore, and then off he sprinted to Rio, before I could tell him that the world cup was being held in Brazil NEXT YEAR and not THIS year. But well, off he ran, almost breaking the sound barrier, in a huge hurry to get to the beaches of Rio. So what if there's no world cup on, out friend spent his time traipsing around Copacabana, giving me live running commentary about Baywatch style bodies, Samba dancing, Brazilian Sugarcane brandy, and whatnot. The man who thought that running hurts his knees, was suddenly running up and down Copacabana ("Run baby, run!!")..... Hopefully this part of mid-life crisis is winding down.

If someone's wondering what I was doing during all this, I was the one unpacking, setting up the new place in Mumbai. There were other important critical things that needed doing. Finding the nearest street side vendors for Vada pav and Sandwich, earmark the stall at Chowpati that has the best Bhelpuri, find a pav bhaji home delivery, where's the best dabeli, and did I forget to mention the need to source the perfect Shrikhand? Other minor trivial things need to be seen to too... Telephone, internet, household help, minor plumbing, carpentry, electrical work etc. Well, the way I see it, I got my priorities right.

Now that I've seen to the relocation, all on my ownsome lonesome, I decided to take a long overdue trip to Singy. I've realised something. Each time I travel on my own, I get stuck with the weirdest dude at the immigrtion counter. This one was priceless, and totally exasperating. Here's the list of questions that I've had to answer

"Why is your name different from that of your kids?"

 "Why are both your kids born in different countries?" 

"Why isn't there a stamp from CHatrapati Shivaji International Airport on your passport?" 

"Why haven't you travelled in or out of CSIA before?" 

"Why is your passport so old?" 

 Why this kolaveri? 

 Why only me? 

 On this note, let me restart my blogging after a long hiatus. And here's to a great holiday...

27 May 2012

Return(ing) gifts

Birthday parties were simpler when I was a kid. One simply took a little present (something hand made , most of the the time), gave it to the birthday baby, ate a little cake and chips, and then just went home.

Kids' parties now are way more complicated. There's a guest list, fancy invitations, decorations, themes, a menu, games to plan, and last but not the least, return gifts.

Return gifts.... A paradox.... I could go all out for a party.. A spectacular cake, a lipsmacking menu, themed decor and accessories, games that rock.. But if the 'return gift' isn't up to par, I might well have committed the greatest social faux pas. Gone are the days when keeping up with the Joneses meant a gigantic cake and a gourmet dinner at a fancy restaurant. This is the day when one ensures that the return gift is totally beyond compare and remains the talk of town way after the birthday baby has forgotten what flavour of cake was served on D-day.

A couple of years ago, I tried to get creative and hired a potter. The idea was that the kids take turns at the potter's wheel and try their hand at moulding clay. The kids could all take as many turns as they wished. And they got to take their creations home. At the end of the party, one little kid came up say thank you and bye. And asked very nicely, "May I have my return gift please?"

"well, kid, those pots you made are all yours. You can take them home with you."

"I'll do that, thanks, but where's my return gift?"

Huh? Did I misspeak?? Wasn't I communicating coherently?

"Those ARE your return gifts"

That little tyke stomped off in a huff, telling all and sundry that I hadn't got 'proper' return gifts.

My first step towards social hara-kiri.

The next time I had to host a birthday party for one of my daughters, I gave the invitees a notebook and some stationery... pencils, erasers, sharpener and crayons. The mothers of the little invitees all called to compliment me on such sensible and practical return gifts.

But, do I ever learn?? Of course not! A few months down the road, when the next kid had her birthday, I tried to repeat a successful formula. Only to be told by one little tyke, "But didn't you give us the same return gifts last time?", who was then dragged away by his totally embarassed mother.

Recently, one kid in our neighbourhood had a birthday, and all kids who attended got a potted plant. Not a bad idea, if I say so myself. Let the kids remember to water it regularly, take care of it, watch it grow and bloom.

But then I didn't factor in something important. Keeping up with the Joneses.

Today, my kids attended not one but two birthday parties. The sensible mom gave them some really nice DIY craft kits.

And the other.... Shudder... Gave each kid a bowl... With two goldfish in each...


I don't want fish at home. But here I am, stuck with 4 critters....

No one we knew, who had fish as pets, wanted to take these off our hands. I didn't know the hostess well enough to take them back to her without making a mountain of a molehill. By this time, there were enough tears to fill up a dam. And of course, daddy dearest can't bear to see his babies cry. He simply HAD to be their hero.

The kids are now proud owners of goldfish. They needed a new and bigger tank. And fish food. And a billion other accessories. We also had logistical issues of transporting fish in open bowls of water back home without splashing water, or fish, out.

After a lot of arguements, we went out and got a fish tank, fish food and other assorted accessories.

And I now own 4 scrawny goldfish.

Lucky me.... Not!

What do I give that kid in return when it's my turn to host my daughters birthday party a few months down the line?

A pirhana for her fist tank? A puppy dog? A hamster? Or better still, a loud talking parrot? What about a violin?? (A note for the uninitiated: listening to a novice, or an untrained person play a violin would be the worst kind of torture... On par with the sound generated by stepping on a cat. Or Nails scraping across a blackboard.)

Ah well. Time to feed some fishy characters. And damn you, whoever invented the concept of "return gifts".

One cannot simply feed and water a few kids before sending them back home anymore. They're to be 'returned' with thanks....

30 July 2011

The apartment of the apes

I've got a monkey on my back. Life was smooth until a monkey wrench was thrown into the works. Was someone monkeying with me? There surely was some monkey business afoot.

The thing is that we live a little bit out of the city limits. How little depends on who you ask. There're a lot of wide open spaces, orchards and plantations nearby. The air's clean and fresh, there's birdsong, traffic is seen, but seldom heard. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

Then there're the neighbours. I really don't mind when someone drops in. There's nothing like having someone dropping in unannounced, and hanging out over snacks and drinks. I have no issues with visitors walking in through the front door.

It's when they force the latch on the kitchen window that it ceases to be cool. It's when they open my kitchen cupboards that it's uncool. It's when they tear open packets from my pantry that it's simply not done. It's when they rip open a packet of oil and throw it on the kitchen floor that it ceases to be funny. Tearing up bags of flour, lentils, cereal and dry fruits and throwing it on the oil already coating the kitchen flour is bad mannered. Opening the casseroles that contain that nights dinner, sampling it and then emptying what's left on the floor is really bad form. Throwing eggs around is an extremely irritating faux pas. Helping oneself to raw potatoes and onions and spitting it around is deplorable.

I called security, and they chased out these uninvited visitors with sticks and noisy firecrackers.

That's when I decided to tear and throw away cards I'd been carrying for years.... From SPCA and PETA. When visitors tend to be quadrupeds with a tail and decidedly simian tendencies, they can cause all the havoc mentioned above. In less than 5 minutes.

And for some bizarre reason, they attacked thrice in one week. One big attack last week, and two quick lightning strikes in a fifteen minute period just two days ago. Stranger still, mine was the only apartment in this block that was raided this last week. The other half thinks that it's because they like what I cook. Somehow that doesn't make me feel better. I'd personally blame it on a faulty window latch. It takes an hour to make dinner, half an hour to clean up after that, five minutes for a raid and then over two hours to clean up after that. I can definitely think of better ways to spend my afternoons.

Much as I regret that I've taken over part of the natural habitat of my simian neighbours, I draw the line at these raids. I dislike the idea of using air guns against creatures hunting for food when their habitat has been encroached by us. But these critters can be extremely belligerent and aggressive. Chasing 5 really huge monkeys out of the kitchen through a small gap in the kitchen window (I don't want them elsewhere in the apartment), and letting off firecrackers in the kitchen to dissuade them from extending their social call is quite scary. My younger daughter refuses to set foot into the kitchen. She's scared that she might encounter a big monkey there.

All this monkey business is getting to me.

I also think that sitting on the sill of the kitchen window at half past five in the morning and snarling at the hostess, because the latch is firmly in place and denies one unimpeded access, displays an appalling lack of decorum.

That's when flipping the above mentioned simian the bird is justified and not the least bit juvenile.

Movie review: Cowboys and Aliens

I pulled a disappearing act for a long time. And, like the terminator, "I'm back"

Last night, a wonderful friend asked the kids over for a sleepover. The other half and I decided to go out for dinner and a movie. The dinner was fabulous. The movie....

Ah, well... the movie... I thought it had Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig wearing something that looked like Ben10's whatchamacallit, and aliens, and some good old fashioned gunslinging, all this from the trailer I watched last week.

I thought Daniel Craig was starring, so at least there'd be some eye candy.

But what went wrong?

Let me start logically. There are innumerable questions that need answering.

Why did we choose this particular movie to watch?
Because this was the only movie that we hadn't watched, and was playing at a cinema that wasn't too far away.

But why?
Inexplicable lack of judgement. I blame the monkeys. But that's another long story.

What was the movie all about?
Aliens attack the old wild west. The triumph of old fashioned six shooters, shotguns, primitive arrows and spears over advanced technology and weapons.

Why were there aliens in the wild west? What could they probably want?
Oh, that's easy. Gold. They wanted gold.

Gold, what on earth for? Where were they planning to spend it?
Hmmm... Aliens.. I wonder. Do you remember watching "Men in Black?" I bet the aliens were planning a shopping spree at the duty free shops at MiB HQ.

Well, with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, surely there was some eye candy??
None at all. They're OLD!!!! Well, one IS old, the other LOOKS old!

But it's a Steven Spielberg production!
See, Mr. Spielberg saw the word Alien in the title. Then he saw the fairly high billing given to Mr. Ford. I assume that at this point, he put 2 and 2 together. The last time we had Ford and Aliens in a box office rocking equation we got Star Wars.

Sorry Mr. Spielberg, this time you didn't call it right.

My suggestion, give it a wide berth. If you really want to watch it, wait for it to hit the idiot box. Don't waste money on tickets.

The movie left me shaken. Not stirred. The only way one could possibly appreciate this stinker is after a three martini lunch. Make that a three martini lunch preceded by a three martini starter and followed by a three martini dessert.

I may also give the next Bond movie a miss.

20 September 2010

To read or not to read

We're now reading. To be precise, I get my daughter to read aloud to me at bedtime. This is not about her putting me to sleep, but one way to get two birds with one stone. Reading practice and bedtime stories.

A few years ago, I picked up the whole set of Ladybird readers for her. At that time they looked wonderful. Big bold easy-read prints, colourful layouts, and new, bigger words introduced in easy phases.

So far so good, right? We stuck to Tom and Kate and their routines (I wouldn't quite call them adventures) and I would get very easily distracted. And that might have been just me, if the other half hadn't pointed out with all subtlety that "Tom and Kate is so boring. Puts me to sleep."

Did that sound harsh??

May I direct your attention towards your typical reader??

and then to some more of the same?

It's.... dry! To put it very very kindly. Halfway through one reading, we are rendered unsuccessful at concealing any yawns and other signs of utter boredom. But encourage the little one to continue we do. May the force be with her! And in all honesty, I did have to use the force to get her to read her quota for the day.

I asked a few educators and they lauded my choice of reading material. So, well, I let it be.

The other day, I got so fed up, I asked my daughter to pick something she wanted to read aloud. Without hesitation, she picked up a Dr Seuss. And read it out way faster than she would normally. I wondered whether it was because she knew some of the pages off by heart. It wouldn't be too far off the mark as I might have read it aloud to her only about a gazillion times.

Just to put things to test, I got her to pick up another Dr. Seuss book. And she did read much better, with way more interest. Here's an excerpt.

Or from another book..

I asked around, and got some opinions.

It's not serious.
There's no educational value to it.
It's just rhyming nonsense.

It does confuse the heck out of a parent, doesn't it?

But then I'm an avid reader. So is the other half. Does reading HAVE to be serious? Is there any reason reading can't be fun? Can't a school related exercise be made more interesting?

When I feel like reading, do I pick Bertrand Russel? Or do I pick whatever catches my fancy? Do I pick a Drucker and Toffler, or do I pick an Eddings and L'amour?

I ordered a few more Dr. Seuss books online. And got the kid to read it aloud. She read it with so much enthusiasm that I had a tough time getting her to stop in the middle of the book, as it was nearly bedtime. Well, if I was in the middle of a good book, I'd want to finish it before I slept too.

The supposedly 'frivolous reading' wins the battle of the books. I'd rather reading was happy and fun. There's always 'serious', 'value-added' reading to be done at school, so let reading at home be thoroughly frivolous.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Ellen Goodman from the Detroit Free Press, (all the way back in November 1966) said:
"Dr. Seuss took 220 words, rhymed them and turned out 'The Cat in the Hat', a little volume of absurdity that worked like a karate chop on the weary little world of Dick, Jane and Spot. "

With those profound words in mind, would you like to recommend some reading for kids that doesn't bore the parents to tears?

19 September 2010

Teaching science vs the science of teaching

The other half proposes, "No more lame bedtime stories for kid#1. I shall tell her stories about science."

Doesn't sound too bad does it?? Indoctrinating fertile young minds towards science and technology?

So we start with the one of the greatest men of science, Sir Isaac Newton.

OH: Once upon a time there was this dude called Sir Isaac Newton. So Newton sits under this apple tree, and an apple falls on his head. What would we do if that had happened to us?
Kid #1: We would wash the apples first and then eat it.
OH: See, Newton was a scientist.
Kid #1: Like you??
OH: Just like me, but way way smarter. So he started thinking WHY the apple fell DOWN. Do you know why it fell down?
Kid #1: Yes!
OH: Good. Tell me why it fell down.

(At this point of time, the father is thrilled to bits that his 7 year old shows a lot of promise, and a future in science)

Kid #1: See, Appa, the apple hangs BELOW the branch. Because there is a branch above the apple, the apple cannot travel that way, so it has to come down only.. simple!

(Here, as an unbiased observer, I would point out that the kid does know her concepts... about straight lines and all that jazz)

The OH wants to cut this line of thought, and stick with the science of all this.

OH: Baby, if you throw a ball up, does it keep going up?
Kid #1: No, it falls down.
OH: Why does it fall down? Why doesn't it keep going straight up?
Kid #1: Because it doesn't have wings.

There goes that lesson. And we're back to the tried and tested conventional bed time stories.

There are constant attempts to introduce the kids to basic science.

We took them to the Planetarium. There's this little "science park" in the gardens. There they have this colour wheel, painted with the 7 colours of the rainbow, and strips of black and white. The idea here is to touch them and see which colours absorb light, and which colours reflect light. The black strip, needless to say, is hottest to touch, and white is the least hot of the lot.

The OH explains it all in great detail to the little one.

OH: So, Aditi, what will you wear when you go out in the sun.
Kid #1: A hat!

We might be teaching science, but we haven't quite got the science of teaching down pat!

And we're not quite giving up! Tonight the OH plans to tell her the story about James Watt and the steam engine.

14 June 2010

Teething issues... reloaded

All through the day I noticed my elder daughter her run to her room every now and then, and lift up her pillow. Then she'd get back to whatever she was doing, with this slightly disappointed look on her face.

Finally, around bedtime, I asked her if something was wrong with her pillow. And she told me she was looking for a coin. Why on earth would you look for a coin under your pillow, I ask her. Did you drop a coin somewhere? Where did you get a coin to start with?

She then gave me this blank don't-you-know-anything look, lifted her pillow again and took out a tooth! My little one lost a tooth this morning and there it was under her pillow.

This was a bit of a dicey situation. When she lost her first tooth over a year ago, we sat her down and explained to her how her milk teeth would now start to drop off, and how a better, stronger tooth would grow back in it's stead. We talked to her about how this was all a part and parcel of growing up, and how her new teeth would be stronger than what she had before. And that a gap toothed smile was a badge of honour, and that she could flaunt it to her heart's content.

Now we hear that some kid in her class her told her not to throw away her tooth the next time it falls, but to place it under her pillow, and see how it would turn into a coin. (Jobless *&$% kid!)

Here's the problem. Do we introduce a tooth fairy into the equation? Do we simply place a coin under the pillow and ask her to put that into her piggy bank and leave it at that? Do I stick to the 'rational' and 'scientific' path that we've been following to date, and explain away the tooth fairy?

Decisions, decisions... and they have to be made in less than 8 hours from now.

17 December 2009

To e-read or not to e-read

I've just about heard enough of Kindle. That's just what every other geek is talking about. Kindle .

A quick confession here, I for one, am unable to appreciate the whole concept of e-books. I've tried reading them on my large desktop, on my little laptop, and once, even on a PDA.

And I admit, I hated it. Somehow it simply does not work for me.

Why would I want to read an e-book? What's the fun in that?

Would I have to forgo the pleasure of browsing through a bookstore? What about the pleasure of choosing just one book out of many? How does one pick just one e-book? All things being equal, I sometimes pick the better smelling book.
(Books: 1 | E-books: 0)

On a cool day, I drag my rocker to a sunny patch in my balcony, and cozy up with an old favourite. Half the fun there is to randomly open a page and start reading from there. The older and more dog eared a book gets, the easier it is find a favourite bit and start reading.
(Books: 2 | E-books: 0)

When I'm done reading for a bit, I plonk the book down and take a cat-nap. I don't need to worry about leaving a reader on and think of battery life, charging etc.
(Books: 3 | E-books: 0)

Oh, I could carry just a book everywhere. No need to worry about charger etc.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 0)

But then again, to be fair, an e-book reader would occupy a fraction of the space of a paperback.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 1)

And a reader with a gazillion books stored in it would occupy way less space that one big fat-ish volume of the latest in The Wheel of Time series.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 2)

E-books use up fewer trees and rainforest.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 3)

As I think up fair and equitable arguments I stare at my overflowing bookshelf. It's starting to look a hippo stuffed into a Michael Phelps' speedo. It's double stacked, overflowing and, yes, bursting at the seams. How many gigabytes of Kindle would that work out to, I wonder?
(Books: 4 | E-books: 4)

Now, with a Kindle each, the other half and I wouldn't ever have to fight over the same book. Like we did for the last three Harry Potter releases.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 5)

In which case, it would mean that I could actually see the surface of my bedside table. Which at the moment holds around 20 books.
(Books: 4 | E-books: 6)

But what if one of my brats pulls an e-book reader out of my hands and throws it unceremoniously aside?
(Books: 5 | E-books: 6)

What if the kids want e-books too? Would that mean, I need separate e-book readers for the kids?
(Books: 6 | E-books: 6)

What about all those pleasurable hours spent at book sales, second-hand book stores and library sales?
(Books: 7 | E-books: 6)

What about looking at a friend's bookshelf and going, "hey, I'm helping myself to these.."? I can't imagine browsing through a friend's Kindle to see what she/he has that I don't.. sidey as I made that sound.
(Books: 8 | E-books: 6)

The point tallies aside, how does one 'lend' an e-book? What would an e-book library look or smell like? Goodness, would bookstores just vanish?? Not that I have anything against Amazon, but it just is NOT the same as spending a pleasurable couple of hours at a book store.

As I type, my little one is curled up beside me, and is trying to sleep. It's a fairly cold day too. Just perfect for a cup of hot ginger tea and maybe a PG Wodehouse. Something from the Blandings Castle series, I'd say. Summer Lightning, is just within arm's reach. And the book naturally falls open to my favourite funny bits.

To e-read or not to e-read... that's my question.

Pardon me, while I try not to laugh too loud. This is the bit where Baxter is explaining where the pig is.

30 November 2009

Who's that??

What does one call the supernatural creator and overseer of the universe??

Let me backtrack a bit... It has been one hell of a crazy week.

What are the chances that all of us come down with a very bad attack of the flu at the same time?

What are the chances that you have people staying over when the fever hits three digits on the Farenheit scale?

What are the chances that my gas cylinder is delivered 9 days ahead of schedule? (Last time it took 27 days from booking to delivery) And the gas company manages to choose that one single weekday when I am away from home?

What are the chances that you halt at a railway crossing and the gate remains closed long enough for three different trains to pass? And this being Bangalore, the geniuses who are allowed to drive on these roads form 9 lanes on a two lane road blocking traffic from both ends. And it takes an hour and a half to travel a distance of exactly 13 kms.

What are the chances of catching a really bad cold just after a bad flu attack?

What are the chances that the milkman delivers leaky milk packets three days in a row?

To all of the above, one law fits all. If anything can go wrong it will.

Getting back to my question, What does one call the supernatural creator and overseer of the universe??


15 June 2009

What was that again?

Considering that I feel so sore and cranky, it was rather unsurprising that a random caller felt the brunt of my ire.

Someone has to explain real estate terminology to me someday. This morning, one real estate marketer calls me about some property and tells me that "It suits high class people."

Well, I asked the gentleman to define "high class"... He mumbled for a bit and said, "It is for 'good class' families."

Now was I all that out of line asking him to explain just what made a person qualify as "good class?"

"Madam, those are all decent people."

"Ok, so where do indecent people live?" It was too good to let that one pass...

So somehow I get the feeling that this marketer will never call me again.

Whose loss, I wonder...

I nominate me...

... for this year's Nobel prize in medicine.

I proudly announce that I have discovered new muscles in my body that I solemnly swear never existed before.

I started on a new fitness regime, and did an hour long aerobic workout. I am so sore, it's not funny. It even hurts to bat my eyelids. Or smile. Or sulk. I can't even work up the enthusiasm to take a sip of water. Too much work.

Maybe I should get the kids to get me water in a saucer and then proceed to lap it up.

After that I would lose all rights to tell them to keep their elbows off the table.

Ah well, till someone else does better, I can at least dream of a prize other than fitting into my favourite pair of jeans.

09 June 2009

The complete Kolkata-Experience

AK and I were in Kolkata earlier this month. Rather, we went to Haldia, and got to spend a few hours in Kolkata on our way back.

The other half studied in Haldia for a few years, and when an old classmate suggested a reunion over the long May day weekend, we decided to go. AK was meeting these friends after almost 25 years, and was really looking forward to it.

The first person he introduced me to was Sanjukta, and the very first thing she said to me was, "Hi, nice meeting you! Why have you stopped blogging?"

Now, that's what I call a fan following! There're a few travelogues from our whilrwind tour of the Patel points of Japan that are half written and awaiting completion, but I decided that after a longish break, I'd write a post for a new friend! Here we go, Sanjukta.

This was my first ever trip to this neck of the woods. And I really got to experience Kolkata in the truest sense. Every stereotype and cliche in place!

0900 hrs :
  • We started off from our hotel after a breakfast, with a tightly packed itinerary. On our way, as we stopped at a traffic light, we saw this group of people standing around a bus stand. I mused that it was rather an odd gathering for a Sunday morning. They looked like a typical group of office goers. Before the light could change, at some unperceived signal, the whole group of randomly loitering strangers fell into formation with a military precision, and, as if by magic, whipped out a whole bunch of red flags, and began to march, shouting slogans.
What luck, I got to see one of Kolkata's famous political rallies!

0915 hrs :
  • As we drove towards our destination we were held up by another rally, this one in full swing.
0930 hrs :
  • How could I even say I went to Kolkata without seeing THE landmark: Victoria Memorial.
1100 hrs :
  • Everyone of my acquaintances who had ever been in or lived in Kolkata insisted that I shop for bags and shoes at New market. And the other-half acceded to that request rather half-heartedly. Would you believe that every single shop was closed? There was some commtion nearby. There was that (by now) familiar sight - people with red flags.
New words added to my non-existant Bengali vocabulary: Hobe-na hobe na!

1130 hrs :
  • A few phone calls later, I'm back in action with a plan B for shopping... Ghoriahaat. Wait a minute... aren't we back in New Market again?? No?? But the shops are all closed!! Oh yes, I do see the Bhodrolok with their flags. Yes, I can chant hobe-na with the best of them, now.
1230 hrs :
  • Thank God, my old friend from college, Pinaki, is with us. He helps us find one or two stores that are open for business. And I do some nominal shopping. AK insists that he doesn't want to see a kurta for another decade at least!
1315 hrs :
  • Fifteen years ago, anytime our friends from college went out for pani-puri, Pinaki would go on and on ad nauseum about Puchkas in Kolkata, and how the stuff elsewhere was unacceptable. Ever since we got married, the other half kept insisting that the pani-puri at Kolkata were the best ever. I finally gulped down a few puchkas... and the great debate rests. They are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!! Woohoo....
1340 hrs :
  • Pinaki insisted that I really have to eat some 'real' Mishti-doi. I'm a convert!
1355 hrs :
  • After hunting all around Tokyo to find Netaji's ashes, how could I not take time see the house where was born in Kolkata?
1400 hrs :
  • All this time we were sweating profusely. I swear that the humidity in Kolkata is worse than Chennai. It was totally crazy. Out of the blue the sky suddenly went dark, the clouds totally obscuring the sky and the sun. And the streetlights started coming on in the part of town where we were.
1405 hrs :
  • The next thing I know, high winds are literally sweeping me off my feet (and that takes some sweeping!) There's a spectacular breeze that makes me forget I was sweating like a pig a few minutes ago. And of course dust storms.
1410 hrs :
  • And before I can more than blink at this rapid change in climate, it starts to rain. I 'd like to change that to, it pours. Visibility outside the car is a joke. Kolkata and Kalbaishakhi. I had to see it to believe it.
1530 hrs :
  • As we head towards the airport, we took the scenic route, so I could see Howrah Bridge.
1600 hrs :
  • As we try to get to the airport in good time, we see that roads are flooded.
1615 hrs :
  • And to top it all off, TRAFFIC JAM!!!
I have to admit that I didn't have the time or the appetite for two of Kolkata's famous gastronomic must-dos. Jhal-muri and Rasgolla (yes, I know. It's shocking, isn't it?)

But then I really do need to save something new for next time.

26 May 2008

Talking trash

We're officially on our way out of Japan. The last few days have been completely chaotic. I've had to do the sorting of what to keep (everything), what to discard (ultra heavy winter wear, things I haven't used in over a year, size... er.. X-4... jeans), what's sentimental (Aditi's school craftwork), what's not (greeting cards and other senti stuff)... and also answer questions like "why are my toys in that big bag over there instead of in my toy cupboard? Don't my toys have a visa to go to India?"

The sorting is still the easy part I say. It's discarding that's painful. First thing I did was to donate clothes that are in good shape to charity. Whlie we're at that, let me tel you, finding a charity here is next to impossible. I asked around if anyone was collecting stuff for earthquake or cyclone relief for China or Burma. Answer was 'Cash only, please." The Red Cross asked who would pay to ship the stuff to these places. But thankfully, one friend here asked if I could give stuff to an orphanage. I was more than happy to.

Then we got to discarding. And it's a PAIN in the wrong end. Please do read this article to understand how trash disposal works in Japan.

So there we were, wondering where what went. Does a stone vase count as 'un-recyclable trash', or does it qualify under 'other miscellaneous household goods'? What about that plastic container? Is that PET, recyclable or non-recyclable plactic? Do gumboots qualify under burnable trash or plastic? Why are there so many categories for disposal of footwear? Why didn't I run away and join a real circus instead of being in this one?

So we bagged all our stuff into different categories and got rid of it over a week (each day, we're supposed to take out only a particular kind of trash). Last night, we took out ALL the trashbags and put them in the designated receptacle.

The movers got here this morning. And as they were nearly done, someone rang the bell. He had a bill in his hand, and asked if it was ours. It certainly was, and hadn't we just discarded that with the trash last night? He turned out be someone from the waste removal company who wanted to know why we'd thrown out that much trash? Why had we thrown out the wrong trash for Monday? Hadn't we received the trash calendar from City Hall?

We explained that we were moving... "look, these nice men are taking away all our things," we said. He very reluctantly agreed to let our trash stay in the dustbin. I still can't believe someone rooted through the rubbish to figure out who all that ... er... trash.. belonged to.

Ah well, trash, disposal and recycling is going to be a whole new story once we get to India.

22 May 2008

Netaji's memorial

I remembered reading somewhere, a long time ago, that Netaji's ashes were kept at some temple in Tokyo. Arun and I wanted to visit that place to pay our respects.

Tokyo isn't exactly down the road from this neck of the woods. Last week, once we decided that we couldn't leave Japan without seeing some Sumo (that's another story), we made up our minds that we should see Netaji's memorial too in the same trip.

"Find out where it is," Arun said, "and we'll go there this time."

I tried to do this the easiest way possible. I called the Indian Embassy.

The reply I got there has to be preserved for all posterity. On asking where in Tokyo Netaji's ashes were, I was given this answer:
"You can ask the Japan Tourist office."

That was such an undeniably intelligent answer. I mean, I should have thought of it myself. Think about it, Pt. Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Atal Behari Vajpayee... I'm sure they all decided not to trouble the Embassy and asked the local tourist bureau for directions to get there.

I realised then that I only knew that the ashes were in some temple. And I started Googling for answers. I was lucky enough to get the name of the Renkoji temple on first try.

Next step, I started calling friends who lived in Tokyo. "Hi, where's Renkoji temple? How do I get there?" was always followed by a long pause, and the answer was always "What's that?"

It was back to Google again. This time, Google Maps came to my rescue.

Once we got to Tokyo, we took the Marunouchi Line to the Higashikoenji station, and once there started asking for directions to Renkoji. No one seemed to know where it was. With my Google Map for directions, we got to the general area where it said the temple was, and asked passers by if we were anywhere near the temple. Always to be met with blank looks and apologetic bows. Finally one passerby told us that there was a temple nearby, maybe they could help us find this place.

We walked a few yeards ahead, and saw this really small temple.

The temple itself was closed, and our shouts of "sumimasen" (excuse me please) went unanswered. We ventured into the temple, and there we saw.......
Mission accomplished.

Why are Netaji's ashes consigned to rest in an obscure temple somewhere in the back of beyond of Tokyo? Since the findings of various commissions have been tabled in parliament, and the theory that Netaji did not die in the plane crash in Taiwan has been rejected, and considering the fact that various leaders have over the years paid their respects at this shrine, doesn't this imply that the government believes that Netaji's ashes rest in Renkoji? I'm really curious why these ashes haven't been brought back to India . Don't the ashes of this great son of India deserve to be brought back to the land of his birth? Doesn't this great son deserve a prominent monument in the land of his birth?

In this forgotten little corner of Tokyo, lies this impeccably tended memorial to a great man.

Anyone who's interested may visit the Renkoji temple. The temple's at
Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Wada 3 Chome 30-20
Take the Marunouchi line towards Ogikubo. Get off at Higashikoenji station. Take the exit marked Wada 1-3 Chome. There's the entrance to a little park to the right of the exit. Walk into the park. Continue down the path till you reach a little road. Turn left at the road. Walk about 150 meters, and Renkoji temple is to the right.

Don't bother asking the embassy for directions.

14 May 2008

The Samurai's tale

The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, fought between the forces of Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen is considered a tactically interesting battle. So intersting, that in the little town of Yonezawa, they reenact that famous battle every spring. That annual battle seems to get Yonezawa its fifteen minutes in the spotlight. Yonezawa was the stronghold of the Uesugi clan during the Sengoku period of Japanese history.

Last month I got an email from one of the local newsgroups asking for volunteers to participate in this year's enactment of the battle. There was this small unit of about 15 that welcomed 'foreigners' to participate. That sounded very interesting. Why not, I thought, and promptly volunteered all four of us. But the organisers were not allowed to recruit samurai of under high-school age. The kids could not be samurai, and one of us had to drop out too. Guess who lost that toss??

On the big day, we started off early in the morning, and drove to Yonezawa. If I thought I lived in a small town, Yonezawa was... well.... way smaller. Since we'd had a really long drive to get there, we were among the last to arrive, and Arun was rushed into the changing room to get into costume.
And that perplexed the little one totally.
"Amma, why is Appa wearing a silly dress?"
"That's not a dress, baby. Appa is wearing a costume."
"Why is Appa wearing a costume?"
"Because today your Appa is a samurai."

And having satisfied her curiosity to that point we marched off to the battlefield.

And there she saw the armies swear fealty to their respective daimyo, in this case, to Takeda Shingen.
And they're ready to fight. For honour, for glory and all that jazz.
"Amma, why is Appa dressed like Spiderman?"
"No, baby. Appa is dressed like a Samurai."

And then the Uesugi forces start to get into formation.
"Amma, is Appa going to fight with those people."
The questions don't stop, do they.
"Amma, now I know what's happening. Appa is the good Spiderman, those people are bad Spiderman. Now all the good Spiderman uncles are going to scold the bad Spiderman uncles."

Talk about impeccable logic.

And they charge and are engaged in battle.

The forward troops light signal flares, and the troops start to get in formation.

The reserves on the other side of the river see the signal. They ford the river and hit the Uesugi armies from the back.

And battle heats up again.

Much as I hate to say it, I totally missed the climax of the battle. One little kid demanded to be taken to the restroom immediately, and refused to wait till the war was over.

And by the time I got back, the battle was all over, the battlefield littered with the (pretending to be) dead.

Well, when you got to go, you got to go.

I have to admit it was a great day. The battle was beautifully choreographed, and Arun had loads of fun.

But there were some really funny scenes out there. The bulk of the troops were high-school kids. The distribution of the sexes was equal. And it lead to interesting skirmishes. The armies charge. Four school girls meet in the middle of the field. They looked at each other and giggled.
I swear I'm NOT making this up!

After the battle, an old lady came up to Arun and asked to pose for a picture with him. She was so excited and she said, "Last Samurai?? Tom Cruise?" Err... lady.... Hmmm.. never mind. Say cheese.

As the troops went back to change into 21st century clothes, one bunch of Samurai charged a bunch of schoolgirls who were chatting by hte roadside. They squealed (loudly) and then wanted to take pictures.

Here, we see little girls start Samurai training... jut in case some weirdo charges her..

This shot was taken before the battle. It was so totally incongruous.

Did the average samurai warrior have to deal with little girls insisting that they had to be picked up right now? Or have to count how many hugs each kid got?
This one did. So what if he was wearing a Spiderman 'dress'.

20 April 2008

Darth Krishnan

Long time ago in a galaxy far far away (as far away as Japan, for starters), there was this academician.

That's not a very gripping story, is it? Anyway, one day, something went wrong, and instead of fighting the dark side of the force, he embraced it.

To make a long story really short, he turned to the dark side of the force. He was seduced by... (gasp) Industry. He ceased to be a Jedi (academic).

Yes, he's now a part of the Evil Empire, and will soon move with bag, baggage and family to Coruscant... well, Bangalore really, in service of the Emperor.

All Hail Darth V... er.. Arun.

May the force be with you.

(play the Imperial March too)

10 April 2008

The numbers racket

"Amma, how many years am I?" pipes the elder one. "4 years!!!!" she shouts out before I can reply.

For some reason, the elder one is obsessed with age. She has to know "how many years" any given person is. And it need not necessarily be a person.

"Amma, how many years is the baby?"
"Amma, how many years is appa?"
"Amma, how many years is Thatha?"
"Amma, how many years is Paati?"
"Amma, how many years Gowri chitti?"

...and so on and so forth, and wants to know how old every single family member is.

I was on skype with an old friend yesterday, and after I'm done goes... "How many years is Akshay uncle??"

I tell her.... she ponders for a bit and asks..."When I am that many years old can I have a beard too?"

Hmmmm... it had been too easy,... way too easy... "Er... girls don't have beards."

"The beast has a beard in Beauty and the Beast. Is the beast a boy?"

"Yup, the beast is a boy."

"Are all boys beasts??"

I don't want to go there.... so I put on her favourite (of the moment) movie Tonari no Totoro.

After a bit,"Amma, how many years is Totoro?"

"Er... I don't know," and I shut up before I start to try to explain the concept of an ageless forest spirit.

"Is Totoro 53 years?" she asks.

I heave a mental sigh of relief, but too soon. Way too soon.

"Amma, why is Totoro 53 years?"

I have no answer there. I look at that cute curious face, and start to think, no mean feat in these circumstances, let me tell you. "Totoro is Japanese," she tells me. "Do you think my sensei knows how many years Totoro is?"

Saved! I guess sensei really earns her pay. I tell her that she should ask her sensei that question. And as she reasons, sensei and Totoro share the same nationality.

After we're done for the day, she wants her usual bedtime stories. She has to listen to a Kannan kadhai, stories of Sri Krishna as a child. Half way into a story about one of his childhood pranks,

"Amma, how many years is Krishna?"

I think to myself that since she enjoys these childhood pranks series of stories so much, maybe I'll put Him at the same age as Aditi. "He's 4 years old, just like you," I say.

And she starts to wail, "But Appa said he was 6 years."
"Well, he is 6 years, I said 4 by mistake.. how silly of me," say I and try to get her to stop crying.

"But why does Appa think 6 years old?"

That's it. I've had my share of the questions for the day. I get up, go to the other half, and say, "Your daughter has some questions for you..."

And I breathe a sigh of relief.. until she thinks of the next set of questions